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In re Katherine H.

Court of Appeals of Connecticut

July 6, 2018

IN RE KATHERINE H. [*] IN RE JAMES H.

          Argued June 1, 2018

         Procedural History

         Petitions by the Commissioner of Children and Families to adjudicate the respondents' minor children neglected, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of New London, Juvenile Matters at Waterford, where the court, Driscoll, J., issued ex parte orders of temporary custody and removed the minor children from the respondents' care; thereafter, the matters were transferred to the judicial district of Windham, Child Protection Session at Willimantic; subsequently, the court, Hon. Francis J. Foley III, judge trial referee, sustained the orders of temporary custody; thereafter, the matters were transferred to the judicial district of New London, Juvenile Matters at Waterford, and tried to the court, Hon. Michael A. Mack, judge trial referee; judgments adjudicating the minor children neglected and committing the minor children to the custody of the petitioner, from which the respondent mother appealed to this court. Affirmed.

          Ann C., self-represented, for the appellant (respondent mother).

          Christopher L. Aker, assistant attorney general, with whom, on the brief, were George Jepsen, attorney general, and Benjamin Zivyon, assistant attorney general, for the appellee (petitioner).

          Ellin M. Grenger, for the minor children.

          DiPentima, C. J., and Lavine and Bear, Js.

          OPINION

          PER CURIAM.

         In these consolidated appeals, the self-represented respondent mother, Ann C., [1] appeals from the judgments of the trial court finding her minor children, Katherine H. and James H., neglected and committing them to the custody of the petitioner, the Commissioner of Children and Families.[2] On appeal, the respondent essentially takes issue with the manner in which the Department of Children and Families (department) performed its responsibilities and the court's factual findings.[3] We affirm the judgments of the trial court.

         The following facts and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of the respondent's appeals. The department became involved with the respondent on November 20, 2015, after it received a Careline[4] call from a clinician who reported that the respondent was the caretaker of two young children and that she presented a risk of harm to them given her psychotic thoughts, delusional thinking and consumption of large quantities of wine. The respondent had been employed by Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics Corporation (Electric Boat), but in May, 2016, the yard psychiatrist found her to be unfit for duty. Electric Boat referred her for a psychiatric evaluation, but the evaluation never took place given the terms the respondent wanted placed on the conditions of the evaluation. Between November, 2015, and November 30, 2016, the department made efforts for the respondent to undergo a psychiatric evaluation, to enter psychotherapy, and to comply with medication management. Its efforts were unsuccessful. Therapists to whom the respondent was referred expressed concern about her delusional thinking and consumption of alcohol. The court, Hon. Michael A. Mack, judge trial referee, found that the respondent does not acknowledge that she has mental health issues or that she needs help.

         On August 5, 2016, the petitioner filed the neglect petitions at issue.[5] Before the neglect petitions were adjudicated, however, on December 1, 2016, the petitioner filed ex parte motions for orders of temporary custody of the children. On that same day, the court, Driscoll, J., granted the ex parte motions for temporary custody.[6]

         A contested hearing on the motions for temporary custody was held on December 14, 2016. The trial court, Hon. Francis J. Foley III, judge trial referee, issued a memorandum of decision on December 16, 2016, in which it sustained the orders of temporary custody. In his decision, Judge Foley disagreed with the respondent's contention that the court was required to find predictive neglect in order to sustain the orders of temporary custody.[7] He also made detailed factual findings as to the department's efforts on behalf of the respondent, as well as the findings and recommendations of therapeutic providers regarding the respondent's delusional thinking, alcohol consumption, and the risk she posed to the children. The court found that the respondent was aware that she risked losing custody of the children. The court found that the children were in immediate physical danger due to the respondent's delusional disorder and abuse of alcohol and concluded that their removal from the respondent's care was necessary to ensure their safety. The respondent did not appeal from the judgments granting the motions for temporary custody.

         On December 5, 2017, following a contested hearing on the neglect petitions, Hon. Michael A. Mack, judge trial referee, found ‘‘by a fair preponderance of the evidence that the children had been permitted to live under conditions, circumstances or associations injurious to their well-being and that they were being denied proper care and attention, physically, educationally, emotionally or morally. As noted by Judge Foley . . . the court is not required to, nor should it, wait until an actual catastrophe occurs involving the children or either of them. There is significant evidence that under the circumstances before the [orders of temporary custody], it was only a question of time before an act or actual happening of neglect occurred. Living in the presence of actual delusional thinking and acting is itself a condition of negligence and/or neglect. No credible evidence was offered demonstrating that there has been a significant improvement in [the respondent's] situation.''[8] Moreover, the respondent did not acknowledge that she had mental health issues or that she needed help.

         Judge Mack also found pursuant to the evidence presented by the petitioner that ‘‘[o]n May 24, 2016, [the respondent's] therapist contacted the Careline to report that [the respondent] was experiencing psychotic thoughts. The therapist felt that [the respondent] having episodic psychotic delusional thinking might be a problem for the children, as she was the only caregiver ...


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